The Quest Film

In writing this blog, I’ve realized that I am drawn to particular kinds of movies. One genus, if you will, is the sort of whip-smart battle-of-the-sexes film such as His Girl Friday. A recent example might be Duplicity (2009), with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

But another thread is what could be called the Quest Movie. The quest film is defined by a single-minded hero who becomes fixed on an objective, sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly. The archetypical example is The Searchers (1956) with John Wayne, in which his pursuit of Natalie Wood’s kidnappers became obsessive.

As these things usually work, I watched three such movies in a row: John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and the modern Children of Men (2006) by Alfonso Cuaron.

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Bad Pacino Scorecard: Author! Author!

What the hell am I supposed to do with six kids?

Near the end of Author! Author!, Al Pacino’s character, an Armenian playwright named Ivan Travalian, is slumped backstage at the premiere of his troubled play, anxiously listening to the audience.

“They didn’t laugh,” he says. “They aren’t laughing.”

You wonder now if Pacino himself knew he was forecasting the audience’s reaction to the film.

There’s not a laugh to be found in Author! Author!, a supposed “comedy” from 1982 that ran deep in the evening on AMC this week.

So many things run wrong with this film, from the script, to the casting, to the editing, that it’s a minor miracle it exists in any sort of form to run late-night on a cable channel.

You might start with the fact that Pacino plays an Armenian playwright named Ivan Trevalian. “I don’t think I have ever met an Armenian before,” one character says to him. “It’s easy,” he replies, “all Armenian names rhyme with Armenian.”


We’ve already lauded Al’s willingness to stretch as an actor and here he was in a period where he was really pushing the limits, perhaps tired of the street-wise, world weary roles that had made him a star. He had famously starred as a cop who goes undercover in the gay underworld in Cruising. (This enraged family values groups and gay-rights groups both at the time.) And he had not yet appeared in his own personal Heaven’s Gate, a career-killing historical film called Revolution, that, frankly, I remain terrified to see. And his next film would be a modest, subtle little film called Scarface.

So it was only natural that Pacino would sign on to appear in a comedy about a neurotic New York playwright who lives in a chaotic household with six children to whom he serves as a largely surrogate father.

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